Training camp winners and losers: RGIII in driver's seat

Print

The final weekend without football games until mid-February came and went without the screaming headlines that could interrupt summer vacation for our pigskin-addled populace. Enjoy the quiet while you can and don't expect the trend to last.

Training camps for all 32 teams are now in full swing, with most squads breaking out pads for full-contact work over the weekend. Since actual games haven't started yet, it's on us to make up the score. Below, you'll find some extremely early camp winners and losers.

Good news for ...

Robert Griffin III, QB, Cleveland Browns: Browns coach Hue Jackson says he will name his starting quarterback before the team's first preseason game. His actions tell a different story.

RGIII received every first-team rep for the first three days of practice, with Josh McCown exclusively working with the backups. Compare that to San Francisco, where Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert are splitting reps evenly.

The practice reports surrounding Griffin's play have failed to approach Jackson's winning brand of optimism and bluster, but that's beside the point. Jackson has made his decision and wants to give Griffin all the work he can. There's little need to keep the charade going.

Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints: It wouldn't be a training camp column without some irrational hype for a rookie receiver. The Saints' second-round pick inspired buzz all offseason and his propensity for fancy grabs has only picked up early in camp.

One beat writer called Thomas "easily the best player in camp so far," which should offend Drew Brees and Cameron Jordan. We don't want to get carried away yet, but Brees must be thrilled with his young trio of Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Thomas.

Formerly embattled general managers: Give Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis credit for overseeing the hire of general manager Reggie McKenzie and having the patience to see his plan through. It wasn't that long ago that McKenzie was the butt of jokes for his slashing and burning of the Raiders' roster while he flailed in the Matt Flynn and Matt Schaub aisle of leftover quarterbacks. Now McKenzie boasts a new four-year contract and one of the most promising young starting lineups in football.

Houston Texans GM Rick Smith, meanwhile, got a new deal through 2020. Owner Bob McNair prizes organizational stability and Smith has quietly done a solid job at the helm. He was hired in 2006, so he's already shown incredible longevity for someone who is only 46 years old.

Fans of old-fashioned rookie holdouts: Surely, there is at least one crotchety diehard out there who pines for the good old days when rookie contract drama would spice up training camp. Joey Bosa and the San Diego Chargers are here to help.

The collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011 has mostly done away with holdouts because of the rookie-wage slotting system. But Bosa hasn't showed up to camp because he's unhappy with the structure of his signing-bonus payment. Bosa's camp wants his entire $17 million bonus in 2016, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. The Chargers don't want to break precedent and propose to spread it out over two years. There is no reason to take sides here; it's not your money. But if this drags on, it's fair to question why both sides can't figure out an issue that gets quickly resolved in every other negotiation.

(The other unsaid victim here: I am gearing up to predict that this sneaky Chargers defense will lead San Diego back to the playoffs, and don't want anything to screw it up.)

Coach Mike McCoy says Bosa "needs to be" at camp, which is reminiscent of rookie holdouts of yore. Perhaps it sounds familiar to Joey's father, John, the No. 16 of the 1987 draft. He held out for most of his rookie camp, too.

Eric Fisher, LT, Kansas City Chiefs: One of the least-known No. 1 overall picks in NFL history, Fisher struggled in his first two seasons at tackle for Kansas City. That's why it was a surprise to see the Chiefs hand Fisher a deal that made him among the highest-paid players at his position after a solid, if unspectacular, third season.

Fisher was the first player drafted under general manager John Dorsey and we wonder if this contract was partly a case of confirmation bias. By giving Fisher the deal, Dorsey has essentially validated his pick.

Nick Perry, OLB, Green Bay Packers: Another oft-maligned first-rounder, Perry is finally set to be a starter at outside linebacker entering his fifth season. The plan in Green Bay is to bring Julius Peppers off the bench behind Perry, whom the Packers re-signed this offseason. Those 3.5 playoff sacks have given Perry's career new life.

Best value signings

Mike Maccagnan, GM, New York Jets: The Jets picked the right player to hand a monster long-term deal in Muhammad Wilkerson. Then Maccagnan got Ryan Fitzpatrick to sign at the right price, a low-risk, one-year contract that pays Fitz a salary exactly halfway between starter-level and backup. The Jets were smart to wait Fitz out.

NFL purgatory

Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns and Dion Jordan, DE, Miami Dolphins: Both players were reinstated to the NFL on a conditional basis. Now comes the hard part. Gordon is out for the next few weeks with a quad injury. Jordan just had knee surgery and is expected to be out at least 2-to-3 weeks.

Satisfying the conditions of their reinstatements will be challenging enough for both players. But these injuries are a reminder that a player can't just pick up where they left off before a long suspension.

Bad news for ...

Nick Foles, QB, free agent: Getting cut hurts, although the $6 million roster bonus the Rams gave him in March should cushion the blow. The bigger insult: Denver, Dallas and San Francisco's public pronouncements they didn't want him despite big needs at the position. NFL life comes at you fast.

"Player X will be ready for training camp" stories: There are no injury-reporting requirements for teams in the offseason, so there tends to be more lying  optimism than usual. Here's a highly incomplete list of players who were supposed to be ready for camp but weren't: Thomas Rawls, Jordy Nelson, Sammy Watkins, Justin Bethel, Tamba Hali and Josh Doctson. Speaking of which ...

Josh Doctson, WR, Washington Redskins: The Redskins' first-round pick has plenty of time to get back on the field from a persistent Achilles issue that has bothered him since May. His bigger mountain to climb: The Redskins' depth chart. With DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder entrenched, Doctson is going to struggle to earn snaps this season. It could be tough to catch up with this group if he misses most of training camp.

Buffalo Bills' pass rush: The Bills drafted Shaq Lawson to "walk in off the bus starting," according to general manager Doug Whaley. Once the first-round pick underwent surgery, the plan was to start the next-best Lawson available: Manny. A pectoral injury suffered during weightlifting put Manny on the Non-Football Injury List, meaning the Bills are now backing the bus up to pick up IK Enemkpali for a potential starting job.

It is way too early to panic, but the Bills have endured a long offseason when you also consider Kyle Williams' slow recovery from his Achilles injury and the lingering questions around Sammy Watkins.

Justin Hunter and Dorial Green-Beckham, WRs, Tennessee Titans: Andre Johnson's deal in Tennessee feels like a lose-lose-lose. Johnson has been too big a badass for too long to watch him take a minimum contract before potentially getting cut by a struggling franchise. His presence is a sign the Titans aren't fully confident in their young players and are willing to take camp snaps away from them. Hunter now looks especially dicey to make this team. The craziest part of the Titans' receiver battle royale: fifth-round rookie Tajae Sharpe continues to line up as a starter.

San Diego Chargers injury déjà vu: It is almost too cruel that the Chargers suffered the first major on-field injury of training camp. No team had worse injury luck last year, and wide receiver Stevie Johnson's torn meniscus is a serious setback to the offense.

NFL Media's Michael Silver reports that it is unclear if Johnson will miss the entire season, but it is another downer for Philip Rivers and friends. San Diego's skill-position depth is enviable; Rivers has so many disparate options to throw to. Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin still comprise a solid starting duo, but Rivers has one fewer quality option now.

Arizona Cardinals' cornerback depth: Arizona's thin cornerback position stands out on an otherwise loaded roster. Expected starter Justin Bethel suffered a setback in his return from foot surgery. Free-agent pickup Mike Jenkins broke his hand and Tyrann Mathieu is weeks away from returning to the field. Rookie third-round pick Brandon Williams, who only converted to the position a year ago, is now lining up as a starter.

Print